Stumbling out of the theater after the new Pirates of the Caribbean had run its semi-coherent course, I thought about the movie it might have been.
The very first shot, of a hangman's noose, is followed by what promises to be a musical about capital punishment in the 19th Century. A line-up of prisoners with ropes around their necks includes a grim-faced little boy who looks like the hero of Oliver, and relieves his anxiety by bursting into song. When other prisoners take up the boy's melody, a British officer rushes off to tell his superior, cryptically, "They've started to sing, sir."
Now, nothing in this bleak sequence has any bearing on the rest of the film; the whole thing is there only to make the point that civil rights have been suspended and all pirates are to be hanged. But I cared about that little boy. I liked his courage, wondered what he'd done to deserve such a fate, and would have preferred his presumably brief life story to the cruel and unusual punishment of a ponderous pirate saga, 168 minutes long, with more doldrums than The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.
Those doldrums are relieved from time to time by spectacular effects -- white rocks turning into crabs; crabs by the digital thousands covering the Black Pearl's deck, a climactic sea battle fought on the rim of a ship-sucking maelstrom. Still, the most affecting effect is one of the simplest - Bill Nighy's octopus-faced Davy Jones wiping away a single tear with the tip of a tentacle.
Jack Sparrow is less of a presence than before, though Johnny Depp remains the saving grace of the series. Keith Richards is there in the leathery flesh, but very briefly, and to no effect. Chow Yun-Fat does a turgid turn as a Chinese pirate captain. Geoffrey Rush is back as Barbossa, and a good thing too, because his diamond-drill voice is one of the few that can cut through the movie's clamor. And Keira Knightley's Elizabeth Swann and Orlando Bloom's Will Turner go through the tortures of the damned in their search for love -- if the story is about nothing else it's about betrayal.
The story is about other things, of course, but the plot's absurd complications defy description. To learn more you could check out the movie's Web site. Or, perish the thought, you could see the movie.
Movies often turn on slender notions worked up to look like full-fledged ideas. Once in a while, though, a notion will be fertile to begin with, and a self-renewing source of delight. That's the case with Luc Besson's Angel-A, a French-language fantasy about a petty, skuzzy criminal at the end of his rope and a statuesque, chain-smoking blonde who may be his guardian angel, or a screwball slut, or neither, or both.
His name is Andre, and he's played, with astonishing variety and verve, by Jamel Debbouze, who was the nasty grocer's simple-minded assistant in Amelie. Her name is Angela -- Angel-A -- and she's played by Rie Rasmussen, a Danish-American beauty who could convince anyone that she's heaven-sent. And sent, apparently, from heaven's department of self-esteem: Angela works hard to help the self-loathing Andre solve the problems of his life by feeling better about himself. The movie made me feel better about life in general, and, in particular, about Paris, which has never looked more magnificent, thanks to Thierry Arbogast's cinematography. The process he used removes all the colors and replaces them with luminous shades of gray. It's called black-and-white.